Good movie, well-made movie, depressing movie about the impossibility of holding on to anything good in today’s destructive change obsessed world. Also, Vidya looking good without make up.
Vidya is the new Forest Officer for a jungle area. Her team is trained and smart and well-funded, they have resources to help them, experts from within and without the government like local college professor Vijay Raaz who is also trained in DNA collection. When a Tiger in their protected territory starts attacking humans, they quickly develop a plan to tranquilize it and move it to the national preserve where it will not be so close to humans. The village within the jungle agrees, the headwoman understands that balance must be maintained and tells her people to stay out of the jungle for now. The problem is, politics. The local politician makes it a political issue that he will save the people and kill the tiger. The other side makes it a political issue that they will save the tiger. As pressure turns up, Vidya’s superior in the forest department, Neeraj Kabi, is brought in to oversee. And promptly agrees to hire an outside consultant, a hunter Sharat Saxena. He finds the tiger and kills her, then orders the forest ranger with him to shoot her with a tranqualizer to make it appear she shook off the drugs and was attacking and he had to shoot to kill. Vidya is heartbroken and calls Neeraj a coward. Shortly before she is about to resign, the village headwoman comes to her to show her the tiger cubs the children found, which gives Vidya hope enough to stay in the department. In the end, Vidya is transferred to the national museum to protect dull dead animals in cases.
There are three turning points in this movie. The first is when Vidya decides to trust Neeraj instead of going over his head. The second is when she insults him in public and calls him a coward. What makes this an interesting movie is the third moment, when Vidya tears up her resignation letter and decides to stay on.
Ultimately, this film is a love letter to career government employees and the people they serve. Vidya and her team are not corrupt or even incompetent. They care about what they do. And the people they are serving, the locals living on the edge of the jungle, need them to do their jobs. It’s not about “protecting the tigers”, it’s about protecting the whole ecosystem including the people who live within it. The problem is with everyone else who gets in the way.
Vidya is no superwoman. She isn’t that interested in her job, ready to quit right at the start just because it’s not that challenging. Thanks to the Indian government structure, we understand she must be extremely intelligent to have an administrative post, and that this is a powerful position. But she just doesn’t like it much, it’s not her passion. The thing is though, she was trained and prepared and is ready to work. She knows her job. It doesn’t have to be her “passion”, it just has to be the job she knows how to do.
There’s a careful dance through out, the career employees, the specialists who know their jobs, versus their supervisors and (even worse) the local politicians. Vidya’s supervisor Brijendra Kala is trapped in the middle, trying to follow the regulations and please the politicians, while the experts he supervises criticize his decisions. Vidya is a career worker, and she is used to this dance, and she knows her role in the dance is ultimate loyalty to her “team”, the fellow career employees. So she trusts Neeraj Kabi, she isn’t going to go outside her own group to criticize.
Vijay Raaz is an outsider, a local academic who volunteers with the forest department. At the first meeting where he is introduced to Vidya, she is suspicious of him, this “outsider”. But as they continue the process of trying to find the tiger, she comes to trust him. He doesn’t have the same training or role she does, but he is there on the ground with her every day and they think the same way. And it is him, the Outsider, who suggests they write a report and send it to the top of the department, over the heads of all of Vidya’s fellow workers, revealing the corruption in the tiger hunt. And it is Vidya who, at the last minute, backs off.
That’s the first turning point. Vidya has come to see that Vijay and the village headwoman are her allies, think like her in this situation, are more focused on the greater good than political points and grandstanding. But she still isn’t ready to let go of her place on the “team”, on her blind trust in the people in her department.
The second turning point is when she calls Neeraj a coward, in public, after he has allowed the tiger to be killed. She is officially taking off her “team” uniform, she does not care any more, this is a wrong choice and all people who care about the greater good can see that. That last bit of faith and loyalty is gone.
And then the third turning point, when the village headwoman takes her to see the tiger cubs. Not just that, but Vidya learns the villagers had been looking for the cubs, and were posting guards to protect them. So maybe her department is corrupt, maybe the politicians are blind fools, they aren’t the people she is here to serve. She is her to serve the public, and the public needs her. Forget everyone else, just think of the people.
It’s an interesting statement on government work. Starting with the power tensions in an office controlling everything, moving to actually caring about your job and responsibilities, and finally reaching the point of caring only about the people you serve, not the ones you work with, or the public opinion. But what makes it really interesting is that, in the end, Vidya IS transferred, left to rot at the National Museum with a bunch of stuffed exhibits. Is that all she is? An old fashioned exhibit, a government employee who actually wants to serve the people instead of just following the rules? Should she have torn up her resignation letter? Or would it have been better to resign and find a different way?
That’s the super depressing part. In the middle of the film, after the team has been fully assembled and Vidya is supervising an all out hunt for the tiger, we start to see the Media get involved. They are “pro-tiger” or “Anti-tiger”. But no one is pro “not having an opinion and trusting in the qualified professionals”. This isn’t a movie about “incompetant government”. Vidya knows what she is doing, her team has plenty of resources, they are more than capable of handling this problem. But no one believes that. The trust in government is so low that even the folks who are pro-Tiger are just angry protesters and shouting talking heads, no one is asking Vidya to talk on TV, no one is listening to Vijay Raaz give a lecture on tigers, there is a total disconnect from the larger national narrative and the people actually doing the job. The decades long campaign to seed distrust in the public in all government offices has worked, they don’t trust anyone, the assumption is “I, a man on the street, could do this better”. So, why should Vidya keep working for a dying organization? Would it have been better to resign and go work for an NGO, be one of those talking heads on TV who people actually listen to?
It’s depressing, but it’s also part of the reason I am glad this movie exists. Movies are to blame for a large part in people’s universal distrust of government. I’m not saying the Indian government isn’t corrupt, or that large parts of the American government aren’t corrupt. But universally again and again it has been shown that Public institutions WORK BETTER than Private institutions. The only way for private industry to get that sweet sweet tax money is to convince the public that privatization makes sense. Privatize the schools, privatize the universities, privatize the forest department, privatize the post office, get those lazy incompetents off the payroll, you will see, it will allllllllllll be better when we take control. The facts don’t support them, so they have to create convincing fictions. This movie cuts across that. It says “look, the department actually knows what it is doing and is doing its job. Shut up, sit down, and trust them”. We need more of these films. We need more films about the brave COMPETANT government employees so that the public will trust them and give them money and let them do the jobs they are better trained to do than anyone else.
So, watch this movie to see Vidya be awesome, to see Vijay Raaz be good as usual, to see Neeraj Kabi be his weirdly sexy self. And to see a story of competent people well-trained for their jobs who are sabotaged by politicians and media buying into the “privatization” narrative. DON’T watch this movie if you are already hyper aware of and depressed by the “privatization” talk and you just can’t STAND to think any more about how our solid reliable institutions are being torn down for no reason. Oh, and how individuals and individual problems are blamed for systemic issues, over and over again the film makes clear the whole reason this tiger is an issue is that private industry has been encroaching on their land. Ditto, the poverty of the local villagers. We don’t need another loud talking hero on TV, we need someone brave enough to point out that big government can save us and industry needs to be reigned in for the greater good.